This article reviews the large and growing literature on social or socioeconomic impact assessment (SIA). Sociologists and other social scientists have been examining various “impacts” or consequences for decades, but the field of SIA emerged during the 1970s as a response to new environmental legislation. Both in its origins and its contributions, SIA is thus a hybrid, a field of social science and a component of the policy-making process. SIAs are generally anticipatory—efforts to project likely impacts before they occur-but empirical SIA work has looked at a broad range of social consequences. The largest subset of empirical SIA work has focused on relatively specific construction projects, particularly large-scale energy development projects in rural areas. Important advances have taken place in documenting economic/demographic and also social and cultural impacts. Further developments in findings, theory, and techniques will be necessary to meet the challenges of the future. The field is showing increasing consensus on a number of earlier controversies, e.g. on the need for SIAs to cross the usual disciplinary boundaries and to develop original data where “available” data are not sufficient. The main issue on which consensus has not yet emerged involves the question of how best to incorporate scientific input in what will remain largely political decisions. The field's efforts to deal with this fundamental and perhaps enduring question, however, may provide useful guidance for other efforts to include scientific input in political decision-making-efforts that may take on growing importance as society begins to deal with the increasingly complex risks posed by technological developments.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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